THE TAVORO WATERFALLS
Well rested from a festive New Year’s Eve Meke (traditional Fijian dance) and Buffer Dinner last night, Julie and I got up at 5:30am and immediately left the Garden Island Resort in the hired SUV. By now, I had grown used to using the left-handed stick shift and I started to get into my old habits of driving one-handed with the other on the stick.
There wasn’t much going on this early in the morning on the first day of the new year but then again, traffic is not a problem on Taveuni Island. There’s only one main road and it doesn’t circle the island due to the rugged terrain of the southern east coast. But we were headed out from Waiyevo to Bouma and eventually Lavena on the eastern side of the island.
The drive was mostly uneventful as it hugged the western coast of the island on a paved road. A few minutes after crossing over the northern tip of the island and its airport, the road became unpaved. It was passable by a passenger car, I reckoned, but we were in a high clearance vehicle so the condition of the road wasn’t a worrisome issue.
At 7am, Julie and I saw the well-signed Bouma Falls Visitor Center, which was basically someone’s humble-looking house with some nature signs posted in front of it. Obviously it was closed this hour but someone did come out to collect the day fee. After she directed us to park in an empty grassy area off the main road, we said our hellos (i.e. the everpresent “Bula!”), paid our fees, said our thank yous (i.e. “Vinaka”), and we were off into the muddy and wet grass of the trail across the dirt road.
With hiking sticks in hand and Chacos on our feet (since we knew we were going to get wet), we made decent progress on the wet and muddy grassy trail. It had rained when we arrived on the island yesterday so the ground was still saturated. We saw frogs hopping about on the trail – some of which startled Julie when she didn’t expect to see them.
And by 7:10am, we had already heard the familiar yet satisfying sounds of falling water. Indeed, we had laid our eyes upon the first Tavoro Waterfall (or the Bouma Falls as they are also called). In my trip research, I knew there were three of them, and we were determined to see all three. This particular one was the tallest, and it was also the most popular. They even have a change facility here so you could change out of wet clothes after going for a swim. But we weren’t going to use the facility this early in the morning; especially when mosquitoes were waiting to get their syringes into us when we stopped.
So in the early morning shadows, Julie and took photos of the 24m waterfall before we proceeded along the trail. It didn’t take long for the trail to begin climbing. It also got progressively more rockier but it was still pretty easy going.
By the time we huffed and puffed our way towards the top of the climb, we noticed a beat-up bench. This indicated to us that it was a resting spot and probably a good view. So we turned around and beheld the panorama that was before us.
The hot tropical sun was already well above the horizon at this point, but I knew we could get better photos here on the way back. So with that in mind, we kept going.
Soon, the trail mercifully started to flatten out and re-enter the shaded confines of the jungle. We had to negotiate a fairly tame rope-assisted stream crossing, which we did without incident despite the slick footing on the wet rocks.
Then, the trail continued through the jungle until we quickly were before the base of the second Tavoro Waterfall at 8am.
This one wasn’t as tall as the first, but we were much closer to it. We could feel some of the light mist coming from the waterfall, which was cool and refreshing considering the increasing heat and humidity as the day wore on.
So far so good.
The hiking was tame and we had already seen two of the three waterfalls we wanted to see here. Now, we continued along the trail and past the sign that indicated the trail was more difficult.
“How difficult could it be?” we thought. Well we were soon about to find out.
The trail noticeable got narrow, muddy, and quite slippery – especially over the smooth wet boulders that lay strewn about on the trail. The trail continued to climb uphill and there were some narrow sections where it seemed the trail eroded in a mudslide.
Since we were in Chacos, we had to tread carefully so we didn’t twist our ankles in a misstep.
So with the difficult conditions, it had been over an hour since the last Tavoro Waterfall we had seen. The footing remained slippery with almost every step we took and we had to endure three rope-assisted stream crossings up to this point. There was nothing but silence broken by the footsteps of our Chacos and hiking sticks as we concentrated on the trail. “When are we getting to that last waterfall?” we thought aloud.
But a few minutes after the last stream crossing, we started to hear the sound of falling water again. We hoped it wasn’t another false alarm of rapids, and our fears were unfounded as we had finally reached the plunge pool of the third Tavoro Waterfall! It was now 9:05am.
From the end of the trail, we couldn’t see the falls very well so I went ahead and waded into the middle of the stream. Fortunately, there were rocks that were large enough for me to use as makeshift tripods. And with them, I took some satisfying photos of the multi-columned waterfall.
Even though this one wasn’t as tall as the previous two, the width and shape of it as well as the arduous and somewhat treacherous hike made the falls memorable. So Julie and I lingered here a little longer before we turned back for the trailhead. We didn’t entertain any thoughts of going any further to see the legendary Tagimaucia flower atop the mountain. Besides, given the already tough terrain, we probably wouldn’t have made it without a guide.
It was still slow going as we hiked back to the trailhead. But at least the terrain was familiar and we were generally going downhill. By 10am, we had passed the second waterfall and returned to that beat-up bench with the eastern Taveuni panorama. And as I had suspected, the lighting was better and the view was breathtaking.
After taking a few photos, we continued to descend the trail. By 10:15am, we had returned to the first Tavoro Waterfall. Now, the radiant rays of the sun had shone on the falls and the inviting plunge pool. We stopped to take a few more photos while dipping our feet in the waters near the bridge.
At 10:40am, we returned to the car park and the AC of the hired SUV that awaited us.